TAMPA, Florida – Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Richard Sherman jumped on a flight – a Boeing 738 to be precise – and flew 2,520 miles from Seattle to Tampa on September 28, practicing for two days and at the age of 33 Years after not playing in the NFL in 288 days, five days later all but one of 54 defensive snapshots competed against the New England Patriots.
Sherman learned he would play Friday or Saturday, but it wasn’t until Saturday night, when starter Jamel Dean was still unable to push off his injured knee, that Sherman found out that he would start in an intricate defense from Todd Bowles. At this point he had barely scratched the surface of the learning process.
“In the middle of the game I realized that there would be no rotation once” [Carlton Davis] gone out, ”said Sherman. “When that happened, the plan was kind of thrown out the window.”
His help should be cornerback Pierre Desir, who was lifted from the training squad the day before. But at the end of the second quarter, Desir had to fill in for Davis, who was her only original starter at the time. On the last two drives of the game, the Bucs had one of five original defensive backs – Jordan Whitehead – because Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) left the game.
“I started going into sleep mode during the game,” said Sherman. “You hate to say you saved up for the way back, but it’s like you don’t have a choice at this point. Because I don’t know exactly what I have for the rest of the game. … And even in the fourth quarter my legs were like jelly, but you just have to get your way and do what you can to help the team. “
A week later, in the Bucs ’47-15 win over the Miami Dolphins and Sherman’s first game in a game at 1 p.m. ET in Tampa where the temperature was 84 degrees, the Bucs’ offense scored three times within six minutes in the fourth quarter.
“Yes, I kept checking with him today because he hadn’t played in this heat for a while,” said Bucs coach Bruce Arians. “He said, ‘No, I’ll get oxygen and come back.’ “
Sherman won’t rest much as the Bucs travel to the Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) on Thursday night (8:20 p.m. ET, FOX) – his third game in 12 days.
However, he’s not the only one who has to adapt.
“I’ve never been in a situation like this,” said cornerback coach Kevin Ross. “I’ve never been in this situation here. No um I had a guy or two who went under. … It’s a unique thing.
How exactly did we get here when the reigning Super Bowl champions were forced to plug and play players in one of the NFL’s most volatile positional groups?
Whitehead missed a large portion of training camp and the first week of the regular season due to a hamstring injury. They then lost starting cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting, who also serves as their nickelback, to an injured reserve with a dislocated elbow in week 1.
They lost Dean to the knee injury for most of Week 3 and all of Week 4, although he was able to return for Week 5. Davis is now on IR too, with Arians saying it doesn’t look like he’s going to have surgery, but also admitting, “I have no idea how long this will take,” while Winfield has yet to clear the concussion protocol.
To make matters worse, longtime defensive captain and her best linebacker in coverage, Lavonte David, will be sidelined this week after contracting an ankle sprain against the Dolphins.
There was no time for Sherman to blink. The same goes for Desir, who was in a similar situation last season when he was cut from the New York Jets and called to the active squad from the Baltimore Ravens training team.
It means living in a hotel, studying out of a suitcase in a strange city, 3-4 hours a night, trying to snoop for a weekly exam, let alone get to a place where the body and brain come together work.
“It took me many hours just to go back and forth. Lots of questions that might have been stupid to others, but I didn’t know, ”said Sherman. “Even during the whole process of the week there would be controls. It is human nature to accept [we all knew what’s going on] because we are in season. It’s no longer like doing installations. They’d say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re just doing this check, this check, and this check.’ I would say, ‘Hey, uh, what does that mean exactly? So, do I have it? OK perfect. We’re sorry.'”
However, he was already in that position when he was with the San Francisco 49ers.
“It was like this every year,” said Sherman. “Every year we lost two or three boys. In my first year we were there I would like to say that we once lost three guys in a game. … It’s a professional thing – anyone can do the job.
“You are only as strong as your weakest link. You need to make sure everyone is prepared. You have to treat everyone as important. “
For Sherman, phone calls to his wife and kids who were at the game on Sunday gave him level-headedness and perspective. For Desir, it’s the reminder that he’s been through much worse. He immigrated to the United States from Haiti at the age of four and fathered his first child at 16.
“Football is easy. When it comes to what I’ve been through, growing up in poverty, growing up and sacrificing and scratching [and claw], and I went through a lot as a teenage dad, ”Desir said. “When it comes to football and adversity like that, I draw on those experiences and then I think, ‘You know what? It’s just football. You have mastered much worse. ‘”
Once the youngest defensive backfield in the NFL, with an average age of 23 in Super Bowl LV, the group has grown rapidly in many ways.
“If the group had stayed young and we had replaced young people with young people, I would say we couldn’t do it [this]”Said Ross. “When you have guys like Sherman, when you have guys like Rashard [Robinson]when you have guys like Pierre – they’re veterans. You’ve had a couple of battles. They understand how to play and what to do. “
Sherman has played 156 career games – more than Davis, Murphy-Bunting, Dean and Winfield combined.
“He came in and we said, ‘We’re all young, we kind of need this leader,'” said Whitehead. “Of the [first] He already taught walk-through, asked us questions and gave us tips. “
Dean added, “I always looked up to him as a kid and always tried to imitate my game after him. Now when I can see him live it really helps a lot because I’m more of a visual learner. “
Desir has played in 75 career games with 44 starts on seven different teams. He’s seen a lot too. Robinson has played in 45 games with 18 starts.
“I mean, it’s good to have vets there so they can give us tips and advice on what to expect and how to watch movies,” said Dean. “It just shows us the way. We didn’t have that in our rookie year. So now that we get it, we have something to build on. “
Arianer explained what this means for the team.
“You see how he prepares and what he’s looking for and how to study film,” he said looking and I think [Sherman] can help you with that. “
Tampa Bay held the Patriots and Dolphins to 17 points each for the past two weeks and helped the Bucs (4-1) to sole ownership of first place in the NFC South.
“The whole room is different,” said Ross. “The training team is different. The fuses are different. But the standard is no different. That’s the key to this whole thing.
“When you get a guy like Sherman to replace some of these guys we lost, you don’t go like, ‘Oh my god, it’s over. We cannot do this. We can’t do that. ‘ You feel like you know what Now it’s getting even more. And when these guys get well and come back, we’ll be better than we were. We’re getting smarter. We’re getting tougher. “